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Cholera Spreading Along Colombia’s Pacific Coast

April 9, 1991

TUMACO, Colombia (AP) _ Latin America’s worst cholera epidemic in a century is spreading slowly but steadily along Colombia’s Pacific coast, and health officials fear the disease may flourish amid the squalid conditions.

Officials on Monday reported 11 new cases of the disease, bringing the number of victims in Colombia to at least 42.

It appears none of the reported cases have proven fatal, but residents and medical experts along the 450-mile Pacific coast fear that unsanitary conditions and lack of government aid may intensify the epidemic.

Many of the country’s cholera patients are in this humid port near the border with Ecuador. Tumaco’s hospital has installed extra beds to deal with the expected onslaught of cholera patients.

Cholera has killed more than 900 Peruvians and infected nearly 130,000 since it first appeared in late January. In Ecuador, at least six people have died and 500 have been infected.

The Geneva-based World Health Organization has warned that the disease could move throughout Latin America.

The cholera bacteria is spread by feces-contaminated drinking water and shellfish, usually causing vomiting, diarrhea and severe dehydration.

It can cause death in a quickly as four hours, but is usually not fatal if treated in time by replenishing a victim’s bodily fluids.

Only half of Tumaco’s 70,000 people have access to clean drinking water, says Mayor Ernesto Kaiser, and the city doesn’t have enough money to buy a needed $10,000 water pump.

Tumaco’s residents are forced to draw drinking water next to where raw sewage flows into a bay. Plastic hoses carrying drinking water lie on sewage infested sands.

People raise the hoses over the slimy, black sand to fill drinking pots.

Health Minister Camilo Gonzalez Posso was given a cool welcome by townspeople when he arrived in town last week. Many residents appeared skeptical about the prospects for halting the epidemic.

″Ministers have been coming here for many years,″ said Baudillo Castillo, an area resident.

″They came, heard and left. And the problems remain. This time we respectfully ask the minister to change history, to return confidence to the people of the Pacific coast.″

″It’s a deadly diarrhea,″ Juan Bautista Prado, 54, who just recovered from the illness. ″I was dehydrated, my legs hurt, I had cramps, my flesh shrank. I couldn’t stand the pain.″

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